Media release 15 August 2014
A healthy democracy should be about more than the government being able to enrol voters effectively and run the mechanics of an election. With the historically low levels of voter enrolment this year, including a 5% fall in 18-25 year-olds signing up, it appears that even this minimal requirement of our democracy is not working as it should.
The contention in Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics – that personal attacks and demoralisation are being used as tactics to turn off voters seems to be bearing a toxic fruit. Hager wrote “politics is a turn off when politicians can’t be trusted, politics looks petty or ugly and no-one seems to be talking about the things that matter”. Hager quotes information from the strategist Simon Lusk whose thinking about election turnout borrows from the US Republican Party. This cynical approach has included discouraging some people from voting altogether because “negative campaigning lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continue to turn out”. The current low levels of sign-up reflect this disenchantment but have been largely unremarked by the NZ media or politicians.
To put the levels into perspective only 89.17 % of voters were enrolled 5 weeks out from the election. On historical trends enrolment will have fallen by more than 2.5% of eligible voters on election day from 2011. Over the six years since 2008 4 out of a hundred eligible people are not on the roll with younger people being particularly poorly represented.
Whether it is politicians and their contacts using scare and smear tactics, the main stream media focusing on personality rather than policy or a loss of institutional memory or capacity in the Electoral Commission following the wholesale re-organisation and amalgamation in 2011/12 the lower levels of enrolment at this election represent a significant failure of New Zealand’s democracy.
The information about the 2011 election is here http://www.elections.org.nz/events/past-events-0/2011-general-election/reports-and-surveys-2011-general-election/electoral
(4.5% of the eligible population is about 150,000 people and 6% about 200,000 of the total of eligible voters).
Election day enrolment 2011 -93.7%; 2008 – 95.3%; 2005 – 95.2%
Pre-election registration levels are currently 4.5% lower than on election day in 2011 and 6% lower than in 2008. At both those elections only 1.7% or 1.8% respectively of the total eligible population (or about 56,000 people on each occasion) came on to the roll in the last four weeks before the election. To close the gap with the 2011 election people would need to be signing up at three times the rate that they enrolled in from now to the election (or at four times the rate to meet the 2008 enrolment level). Despite the huge volunteer effort in the shape of RockEnrol, Get Out the Vote and other programmes the current rate of enrolment (reported to be about 11,000 new people last week) is in line with the 2011 and 2008 elections.
Quotations from Dirty Politics P18 and P132
In the last 10 days to 24 August enrolment rates have increased by a full 1% which is promising but even if this rate of enrolment continues NZ will still have enrolment levels at rates lower than any election since 2002.
Popular democracy in NZ is focused on the Crown’s voting and representative system, which draws from both NZ’s civil government and aspects of the traditional English Westminster system. The separation of the executive from the judiciary is one of the “checks and balances” of the Westminster system, but this isn’t completely effective when the minister of justice has an active role in both the executive and judicial branches. Collins’ resignation hints at a deeper problem with the system, which is hinted at here: